Marilyn Deeble (Akre) will be the first to tell you she never stops learning, even with her background as a teacher, and that’s what helps her continually grow as a person.
Deeble was anxious to build a vast array of knowledge from an experience in a completely different part of the world in Egypt the last two years before returning to teach at Chemainus Secondary School. It took several years after she started looking into it to get there, but Deeble eventually wound up teaching at the B.C. Canadian International School in Cairo and it was everything she hoped and more.
“If it wasn’t for COVID, there’s a good chance I would still have been there,” she confided.
Deeble is never one to shy away from a challenge or an adventure, especially after having previously travelled to a remote part of Ecuador near the border with Peru in the Amazon before going to Egypt. “The heat and the mosquitoes, I could have done without those two,” she said of that trip. “There’s no fans in the jungle.”
Cairo provided an interesting contrast, but the heat was just as intense. Temperatures hit the mid-40s Celsius at times.
The prospect of going to Cairo first stemmed from a conversation Deeble had with Julie Alfred of Winnipeg while doing her Masters.
“I was picking her brain,” said Deeble. “I started doing a bit of research and realized we have off-shore schools.”
She applied and spent the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years there teaching Grade 7.
“English is spoken quite widely there,” Deeble noted. “Everything is in Arabic, but English as well.”
She’s fluent in French, Spanish and English but not Arabic. The Arabic staff handled certain aspects of the classes.
Many things struck Deeble about her time there, the people and some incredible world-renowned landmarks foremost among them.
“The people are so generous, they’re so kind, they’re so accepting,” she praised. “I travelled throughout Egypt and never once did I ever have a moment where I felt unsafe.”
Highlights for her included running a 10K and attending a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert at the Pyramids, and trekking to the top of Mount Sinai of Ten Commandments fame.
Also of note was Deeble’s relationship with a Syrian refugee family. About five years ago, she met a Syrian family in Cowichan that had arrived on the Island through the refugee program and discovered they had family in northern Jordan who had to flee from Syria.
In December 2019, Deeble decided to travel from Egypt to Jordan, Israel and Palestine during Christmas break. She remembered that Mohamed’s family – Abdallah, Barah and their three children – were living in northern Jordan and so she contacted Mohamed and asked if his family would be interested in her visiting. The response was an overwhelming ‘yes.’
“I did some fundraising before I left Cairo and flew into Amman, Jordan,” Deeble added. “The family lives about an hour north of the capital. I travelled to As-Salt with Uber and Abdallah and his daughters met me in the town centre. I gave them the fundraising money and gifts to the children that I bought in Amman. Barah cooked a delicious Syrian dinner and they invited me to spend the night. Spotless but a simple and bare apartment, the family was so welcoming and generous to me.”
Deeble just found out the family has been approved through the refugee program to travel to Canada to join the others in Cowichan. Through the private sponsorship program and fundraising by the Cowichan community, funds have been raised to pay for travel, accommodation and settling expenses.
“Just waiting for flights now,” noted Deeble.
On another trip to El Minya in south central Egypt, she arrived by bus in a small town called Mallawi with a friend.
“This town rarely sees Westerners and certainly never blonde ladies,” Deeble indicated. “Upon our arrival, my friend popped into a local shop and I waited outside with our packs. While waiting, two boys rode past on bikes. When they saw me, they did a double-take to look again, slammed on the brakes, dropped the bikes and ran over to me to shake my hand and say ‘Welcome, Welcome’ with the biggest smiles I have ever seen. The Egyptian people are very kind and welcoming and very curious about visitors in their country.”
On the flip side, she felt sadness about the presence of an abundance of street animals.
“People get scratched and bitten by the street animals,” Deeble remarked. “Not that we don’t have some feral cats, but our animals are pretty well cared for. It’s heartbreaking to see the animals in the streets.”
The students and her role as a teacher left many memorable impressions on Deeble, but it was unfortunate the latter school year in the classroom got cut short slightly with the onset of COVID.
“The school shut right about the time we had our spring break here,” Deeble noted.
“My goal was to go for one year. At the end of that year, I thought I’m going to do one more year.”
She did that and returned home in August and, after doing the required quarantine for two weeks, school opened at Chemainus Secondary School. Deeble taught Math 9 and Humanities and Social Studies 7 amid a trying 2020-21 school year with COVID restrictions.
“The kids had a challenging year,” Deeble conceded. “They were so good, they really were.”
Having previously taught at Crofton Elementary’s old and new schools, it was actually a change of scenery for Deeble in going to Chemainus Secondary, even though the school and several staff members were familiar to her. Deeble’s three children all attended the school.
Cairo still remains in the back of her mind as a future option to attend to some unfinished business.
“I’m seriously thinking about finishing off my teaching career there. We’ll see what way the wind blows, but I’m definitely going back.”